While South Africa’s President Zuma has extended condolences to the people of Thailand following the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there are many South Africans in the country who are as heartbroken and “gutted” as the locals.

One South African, who has been living in Thailand for years, wrote: “RIP Your Majesty You are a legend and your dedication, devotion, sincerity and kindness will remain in the hearts and souls of everyone forever.”

The scenes of grief in the country have been flashed across the world as Thailand begins a year of mourning. Thousands of people have gathered Friday, in front of the Grand Palace, for the funeral procession.

Former Durbanite, Erica Westgate, told SAPeople: “I have no words. Such a terrible loss. He was an incredible humanitarian who reigned his country with dedication, devotion and kindness. For 70 years, he did everything in his power to help improve the lives of his people.”

The 88-year-old king, who died following a long illness, was the second longest reigning monarch in history. King Bhumibol ascended the throne in 1946 at the age of 18, and was regarded as close to divine by the Thais.

Erica says: “The love and respect that was shown and felt by ALL Thai people for their beloved King is like something I have never experienced in my life.

“And I don’t mean now that he has passed; it is what I have experienced everywhere I have been during my past five years in Thailand. He loved them so much and because of it, they all loved him back.”

She kindly shared this message that a Thai friend wrote about His Majesty just before his passing:

“To my friends outside of Thailand.

“You might be surprised to see all Thai people sharing our King’s pictures on Facebook at this moment. You might wonder what is happening and why.

“The reason is, our beloved King of Thailand is unwell and we are all praying for his recovery. If you do not know our King, you might also wonder why Thai people love our King so much.

“Let me proudly tell you why.

“In all 70 years as the King of Thailand, our King had never live a luxurious life as he could do. Every day, as long as I can remember, he had worked long day and long night to help us, his people.

“He traveled to all the remote areas in Thailand. Places that even us do not dare to go. Map and pencil in his hands, creating thousands of his Royal projects to help his people with water project, agricultural, healthcare and so many other things more than we can think about.

“His palace, unlike any palace in this world, is the testing ground for new agricultural concept aim to improve people’s living. Many of these concepts had been implemented all over the country.

“We love him not because he is the King of Thailand but because what he has done. Our King, the ordinary man who had been working to help us all his life and never asked for anything in return.

“To Thai people, our King is truly the center of our love and believe in goodness.

“Regardless of your religion, please help us pray for his recovery.”

Sadly he did not recover.

“So very, very sad. I just hope his son will prove to be half the man that his father, the King, was,” says Erica who is in her sixth year in Thailand, teaching English at a high school in Songkhla.

South Africans – including Erica Westgate (green shirt) – living in Thailand, pictured together with locals. Photo taken before the King’s sad passing. Photo supplied.

“This town is my second home and these people are my second family,” says Erica. “And everyone – Thais and Foreigners – are heartbroken. A lot of people are gutted.”

Erica says there are many South Africans all over Thailand “who call this beautiful place ‘home’.”

Although it is not clear what the future may hold for them. According to reports, the King brought a rare source of stability to the country, but has unfortunately left the land in the “hands of the corrupt”. The king’s son is disliked by many and there are concerns that a period of upheaval may follow.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said in a statement: “The South African government extends its most sincere condolences to the government and people of the Kingdom of Thailand in this moment of sadness and grief.”